October 19, 2010
For anyone that missed out on Fallout 3 - which would be a tragedy of epic proportions - then here’s a chance for redemption, if such a thing can be found in the original city of sin. It's time to venture into the wastelands once again, only this time you'll be swapping the dilapidated ruins of Washington D.C for the bright lights and gaudy entertainment of Vegas. New Vegas that is. Considering the runaway success of Fallout 3, it is hard to see how a sequel could possibly go wrong, as even delivering more of the same would pretty much guarantee success. So it's hardly a surprise to see that Bethesda have passed the reins onto Obsidian, who are pretty much the RPG sequel masters by now. The only real question is whether or not they can deliver? Maybe we should settle down at the tables and make a wager...
Right from the off there is a sense of déjà vu about the latest Fallout. Perhaps it's the strikingly similar opening, delivered with aplomb by the gravelly tones of Ron Perlman or maybe it's down to the fact that pretty much all of the gameplay will be instantly familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in the series. Obsidian have tried to stamp their own mark on the series though and a few of the new additions are more than welcome, if only for making your stay in the waste even more perilous than ever before.
Obviously, the story of emerging from a Vault and making your first faltering steps into the harsh world outside has been done to death – I mean, we have all played the games, bought the t-shirt and used the collectable lunchbox to carry our meals to work in (that last one may well be just me). So a fresh angle is welcome. You play the role of a courier that took on one dubious job too many, and has ended up robbed, shot and half buried in a ditch thanks to the tastefully dressed Benny (played by the king of sinister himself (?) Matthew Perry) and his posse. Luckily you are spotted by a passing robot and hauled to the kindly Doc Mitchell. Cue a handy dose of plastic surgery to explain the facial creation system and a whole host of amnesia to explain your ignorance of the world outside and your own murky past.
The story, sadly, just does not seem as gripping this time around and this is mainly down to the fact that it can play out in a number of ways depending on which faction you choose to shack up with. Last time out you were tracing your father and, although you could choose a good or evil slant on events, you still had that as your overriding goal. Here, things seem a little less focused and the lack of a central character to act as your main objective harms things somewhat. Luckily you can still have plenty of fun along the way and the people you do run across - from the slightly menacing Caesar to the enigmatic Mr House and everyone in between - power events forward depending on your own personal tastes. Whether you choose to side with slavers, powder gangers, the NCR or anyone else is entirely up to you and you can improve your standing with each faction independently of your karma level, which results in new quests, store discounts or even instant attacks if you are uniquely hated.
Once again the real strength here is the open ended nature of events, as you can lose literally hours just prowling around the Mojave desert searching for swag and gunning down irradiated wildlife, passing gangs or unsuspecting travellers. With hundreds of major and minor things to see and do there is never really a dull moment, and you can dip in and out of the main quest as you see fit. If you want to head straight for the main Vegas strip from the off then you are welcome to try, or you could wander south and check out the various cave networks, or even head east to Legion territory. It is entirely up to you, and that is where New Vegas excels. Every house, every overturned truck and every minor quest has its own random story to tell and you can lose track of time remarkably fast.
My only real issue is the fact that vast swathes of the Vegas desert seem, well, deserted. Fallout 3 had a bunch of minor locations that would never even by highlighted on your map, such as little baseball fields, drive ins, huts and hidden caves, but they would often hide awesome loot and fun little stories that had no real link to anything. That side of things seems to be toned down here, and most locations you can discover will show up on your map with little to see or do in-between. It's not a major gripe, as there is still plenty on offer, but it does seem to have taken away some of that personal touch and randomness that made the last game so great. In better news though, the trademark humour is still present and correct and the breadth of missions on offer is still impressive. From helping ghouls launch into space, to luring someone into the sights of a sniper or even negotiating with a crazed mutant that is in the thrall of... a cow skull? The inventiveness is impressive and will always bring a smile to your face.
Graphically the game seems very similar to its predecessor too, and often suffers from the same hang ups. The character models seem a lot smoother and some of the voice work is top drawer to match, but the backgrounds at times look staggeringly bland. The unique Vegas landmarks are all accounted for though and are pleasing on the eye, but they are few and far between compared to bland corridors and muddy looking houses. Issues with enemies glitching into scenery or melting through the ground entirely are unacceptable, but probably to be expected considering the size of the environment.
The fundamental changes, however, are somewhat minor. Combat is still a mix of the V.A.T.S system, which allows you to spend action points and target specific body parts, and some generic running and gunning. Blowing off people’s heads in slow motion is still as satisfying as it ever was, and there are a bunch of new guns and weapons to tickle your fancy. You can also modify your equipment this time around with sights, extended magazines, barrels and such to really beef them up and give you the edge. There are also a bunch of extra moves in the unarmed discipline to make things a bit more interesting than just swinging away like you’re back in the 1990s at a warehouse rave. The only issue really is the fact that V.A.T.S can be a bit unreliable at close range, with bullets missing your opponents even if they are right on top of you. It's a frustrating, but thankfully quite rare, occurrence.
Levelling up and collecting swag are all part and parcel of the experience too, and there are a bunch of new perks to help make your life easier, along with a slew of returning favourites. Another interesting addition to the action comes in the form of the challenges on offer, which are basically a selection of tasks that you can complete for bonus experience. Some are tied in with achievements too, like bartering over 10k worth of goods or doing a similar amount of damage with guns, while others are more unique and offer additional perks. Kill 50 bugs for example and you will get a damage bonus in all future bug related encounters – all hail the death of creepy crawlies. Once again you can tailor your skills to suit your play-style. So if you like smooth talking people, you should pump points into speech, or you could boost your stealth and lock picking to go on a five finger discount spree. You also have access to more types of workbench style creation systems, depending on your skills, so you can craft your own ammo, drugs and weapons depending on what you can scrounge. Pretty much every action, from quests, kills, hacking and discovering new places, yields experience so it will not be long before you have a character just the way you want them.
This being Vegas, you can also use your hard earned caps to engage in some gambling, either via the standard vices of the tables such as blackjack or roulette, or via the unique new game of Caravan. The Caravan game was created especially for Fallout and it is pretty interesting to play, though hard to explain. Suffice it to say that once you have a strategy down it can be a good source of income and you can find or buy new cards to help tailor your deck. It can be quite overwhelming the first time you play though so I would advise you to start small until you get the hang of things. I mean what kind of idiot would bet their entire stash on the first hand? Yeah, that was me.
A major new addition for those that want a challenge, is obviously going to be Hardcore mode. Here you have to keep a close eye on your dehydration levels, food and sleep deprivation. Go too long without any of them and you will start to suffer some ill effects, kind of like an ever present form of radiation. Food, water and beds are never really in short supply so it is really just an extra hassle of making sure you eat and drink when you should – having managed that in real life for years, it kind of makes me wonder why anyone would want such a feature in game as it is just makes things a touch mundane and detracts from the focus on fun. Other more noticeable issues in Hardcore mode are the fact that crippled limbs can only be healed by a doctor or with a certain piece of kit, and that healing items now work gradually rather than in one fell swoop. Couple in the fact that ammo now weighs you down, meaning you can carry much less death dealing equipment, and the whole thing makes it seem like a constant battle. While the idea behind Hardcore mode is a good one, it just serves to make things a lot less fun rather than a lot more interesting.
The achievements in New Vegas are actually a bit of a disappointment to be honest. Most of the points are tied into story related quests, or other main missions, while the rest are divided between getting a ton of damage with various weapons, selling so much, healing so much, or gambling so much, and so on and so forth. It is pretty bog standard in truth and really does not take in the wide range of experiences on offer, so much so that it is a bit of a let-down when you think about the numerous possibilities that could have been exploited.
It is hard to say that New Vegas is a massive improvement over the last offering, especially in terms of the graphics and story which are more of the same – or even slightly worse. However, once again the game succeeds in luring you in and making time seemingly evaporate. The wealth of quests and factions on offer mean you can approach things however you want to, and there is always something to see and do no matter how far off the beaten path you stray. The formula does not seem as fresh this time around with some of the same errors from the last title still present and (in)correct, and the Mojave desert is a slightly less interesting place to visit on the whole. However, that does not detract from what is another top notch experience. Prepare to lose sleep again, lots of it – welcome to Vegas.
Some great voice talent once again, and the script veers between the ridiculous and the sublime, often intentionally, to great effect.
Impressive at times, but shocking at others. The bland and generic interiors are somewhat washed away by some epic vistas and stunning exteriors.
It’s hard not to have fun when roaming the wastes, with every quest and challenge sucking you in for just one more hour. It is a shame that Hardcore mode is more of a drag than a challenge though.
Vegas has never been better, if you ignore the nuclear fallout that is, and this game mixes the best of Sin City with the hopelessness of the Fallout setting to perfection.
A pretty poor and uninspiring list, and one that will require some grinding for all the 10k achievements.
Not really a major leap forward over Fallout 3, but certainly not just more of the same either. The variety of missions and random tasks will keep you entertained for hours and the few new additions serve to provide a welcome distraction in terms of crafting, gambling and reputation management. Jump in, but make sure you come up for air now and again.